The number is a big one, but it also might be a bit deceiving.
Scarsdale is coming off of an appearance in the Class AA semifinals and brings back 16 players who were on that 2012 run, so there’s no denying that this group has the potential to do some special things. But with some key positions to fill at each end of the field, none of the Raiders are taking anything for granted.
“Well, 16 returners, but I think it was only about four starters,” senior captain Neils Mariager said. “We’ll see. I think we definitely have some similarities to last year’s team, but I think we play a different style – more on the ground; controlled, quick passing. It will be exciting to see how we match up.”
Scarsdale has become a team that you expect to compete every year, with the 2010 state semifinalist team setting the bar high. None of the players on the current roster were around for those sectional and regional titles, but they took steps towards carving out their own legacy last season.
The Raiders kept a lot of young players on the team last year who had a chance to taste some postseason success, and now the hope is that they will benefit from seeing what it took.
“That experience is going to be huge, in all aspects,” senior captain Alex Gaujean said. “We have a really nice cast of midfielders, skilled players, and a bunch of them are coming back. Align that with our defense, and we should be pretty set.”
• Scarsdale ran into Arlington in the semis last season, and played the eventual state champs tough in a 1-0 loss. “I spoke with the (Arlington) coach (Craig Sanborn) after the game, and he said we were one of the toughest opponents that he had faced all year,” Mariager said. “I think with our young experience all year, we could definitely make some moves this year.”
• Gaujean (pictured to the right) and Mariager will be the leaders of this year’s Raiders team, with each capable of playing multiple positions. Coach Joseph Cipriano said that Gaujean was probably his best player last year, and he was all over the field at practice on Tuesday. “He could play anywhere,” Cipriano said. “He’d be great as a center back, but we have a lot of good backs, and he might end up as a defensive center mid where he could control the game from there. He’ll get a lot more touches, and you want your best players to get the touches because the more he touches the ball, the better we play.”
• Gaujean said that he was prepared to play defense coming into camp, but as Cipriano noted, it looks more likely that he’ll play in the midfield. They want to get him involved in the offense, giving him an opportunity to find seams and push up. But don’t be shocked to see Scarsdale’s only returning all-section player switch roles during a game—especially if the Raiders get a lead that they want to protect. “I feel like I’ll be able to fill either role, if necessary,” Gaujean said. “When the time comes, if I need to be pushed back late in the game to center back, I can definitely do that, as well.”
• One of the main reasons that Cipriano was considering Gaujean in the back is because Scarsdale graduated starting defenders Jason Henderson, Matt Ellman and Kurt Schuster. Mariager is the only returning starter in the back and will play center back this season. He spoke about leading a relatively inexperienced defensive unit. “I’m pretty much looking to lead this group of guys to work hard and play the right style of soccer,” he said. “Moving the ball quickly, and I think they’re doing a great job of following instructions.”
• Two guys that Mariager (pictured below) mentioned as likely starters on defense are senior Matt Kanner and junior Brandon Bank. He said that most of the team plays together in the offseason with the New York Soccer Club—which should help with the transition—and also said that the fourth defensive spot is still up for grabs. “These guys who I play club with are doing a great job of filling in the spots, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem in the back,” Mariager said. “We’re looking at that last outside spot.”
• While the Raiders may only have four players back who started consistently last year, Cipriano gave a lot of young players significant playing time. Many of them played in the midfield, and he seems to feel very good about the depth that he has at that position heading into this season. Junior midfielders Gabriel Harousseau (pictured above) and Jonny Dorf were both on the team last year, and both captains mentioned them as guys who have stood out in practice so far. “I have so many great midfielders,” Cipriano said. “Right now, I’m looking to play a 4-5-1 so that I get all of these good players on the field and hope to keep control of the ball, and take away a lot of the pressure from our defense.”
• While Scarsdale expects to be strong in the middle of the field, Cipriano noted that his most pressing concerns are up top and in goal. The Raiders have a rich tradition when it comes to goalkeepers, but with Daniel Capelin now graduated, the position is a question mark entering the season for the first time in years. “That’s our focus this year: We have to find the striker that we need, and we’d better sort out the keeper situation,” Cipriano said. “The last few years, we’ve struggled scoring goals, and that’s putting too much pressure on us to play great defense to win.”
• There are three players vying for the starting keeper position—senior David Minster, junior Ben Winters and sophomore Carey Hayden. Minster and Winters were both on the team last year as backups, while Cipriano said that Hayden was just converted to a goalie about six or seven months ago. He’s probably the most athletic of the group, but he’s still very raw. Cip said that no one has distinguished themselves yet, and he seemed to be legitimately concerned. “Right now, no,” he said when I asked if anyone was ahead in the competition. “I don’t like what I see.”
• Cipriano sounded a bit more optimistic about his chances of finding a capable forward to play up top and produce some goals. The Raiders got through last season without a true weapon up top—Evan Hendel, who has graduated, led the team with just eight goals—but Cip said that he wants someone to score 15-plus this season. “We’re looking to find a striker that’s going to be very good for us,” he said. “Right now, I think Zach Cromwell, a returning player from last year, is one of them. I also have my leading goal-scorer from varsity B, Ignacio Marini. He looks good, so we’ll find one of them that will play well with our five midfielders.”
• Since the Raiders will be playing an inexperienced keeper, Cipriano stressed that they are going to need to score at a higher rate this season. “They played really well last year,” he said. “Us only scoring 37 goals for the year as a total – and the leading goal scorer only had eight – we did quite well. In comparison to other years where we scored 50, and in 2010 we scored 60 as a team, we were a little bit short last year.”
• Scarsdale will be playing a tough schedule this season that includes out-of-section games against the likes of Monroe-Woodbury and Chaminade, but Cipriano noted that many of the Raiders toughest games will come in their own league. I think it’s going to be a great race between Scarsdale, Mamaroneck and defending league champ White Plains—three teams that should each be among the best in Class AA. “It’s always competitive,” Cipriano said. “It’s never going to change, and we went out and picked up some really good crossover games. I’m a believer that, the stronger the schedule, the better you get prepared for sectionals.”
• I’ll give the final word to Mariager, who spoke about Scarsdale’s reputation as one of the top programs in Section 1. “It’s an expectation that we like to have,” he said. “We like being known as one of the most competitive teams in AA. When teams come to play us, they definitely work hard, but we’re up for the challenge.”
Photos by Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News